Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Elections! Elections!

As with many things in Malawi, the elections were filled with significant contrasts. The more traditional, uncomplicated world of majority rural Malawi contrasted with aspects of modernizing urban Malawi.

The stories below give a taste of the contrasting situation:

· Spilled ink disqualifies ballots – Eager voters spilled ink on ballots resulting in ten percent of ballots at one polling center to be null and void. Read story here

· Counting ballots by candle lightThe Daily Times midday elections special edition reported that polling staff at Kapeni primary school were counting ballots by candlelight last night. They were unable to get the supplied generator working and the batteries for the back-up flashlights did not work, so candles were purchased and the work continued.

· Wind blows away ballots in Lilongwe – In the capital city, the wind carried away a significant number of completed ballots. Electoral staff were only able to recover three-quarters of the ballots. Read story here

· Clear transparent plastic boxes used for holding ballots – Transparent elections!

· Two major websites posting results and giving election related information
Malawi Electoral Commission – official site of electoral body
African Elections Project – Organization focused on training for use of media as a tool for election coverage
· Internet based radio station focused on Malawi diaspora giving out results live over the internet
Listen to Radio Yako

· Flicker photo stream dedicated to elections – images
See photos here

· Two twitter accounts twittering election results and stories

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

At the house of gods

Missionaries often live at the cross roads of multiple communities. Our work puts us in contact with certain communities, our socio-economic status puts us in contact with others, and our children put us in contact with even more. In Malawi, because of our responsibilities, the majority of our time is spent with the missionary community and a community of better than average educated Malawians. By far, the majority of our time is spent in those two spheres.

Saturday evening, through a friend of our oldest son, we spent time with one of the groups that we have less contact with. Our kids are pretty eclectic in their choice of friends. Many nationalities and religions are represented. We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we received the invitation to come to dinner at 8:00. Most of Malawi is in bed by then. Caleb was sure things would start by 6:00, so we held off till 7:30 and ended up being the second family to arrive. The hosts are newer to Malawi and were holding a sort of house warming. Their house is decorated by an interesting array of diverse art and Hindu gods.

By 9:00, well over a hundred adults were there, along with a dozen or so kids. We found we knew many of the guests from doing business around town. Many of them own their businesses or are the heads of the local division of an international company. The appetizers were plentiful and really good, many of Indian derivation. Dinner, a Mongolian stir-fry, was served around 10:30.

Conversation rotated around business, other social events of the weekend, politics and the upcoming elections (May 19). Our own conversations were more in depth with those we already know and at times brushed on spiritual issues as discussions about our occupation naturally lead in that direction. A different sort of opportunity to be a bit of salt and light in a community often overlooked by mission.

Friday, May 1, 2009

How Important is Your Word?

Lead headline of The Nation newspaper reads “CAMA (Consumers Association of Malawi) to Sue ESCOM (Electrical Supply Corporation of Malawi) for False Slogan.”

CAMA is suing ESCOM for fraud alleging that their slogan “Power All Day, Every Day” is deceptive as consumers continually experience blackouts. CAMA wrote a letter to ESCOM giving ESCOM seven days to remove their slogan from structures, billboards, cars, building and advertising. When they did not receive a response, they chose to sue ESCOM. CAMA claims that the slogan “is evidently false, misleading and, does not conform to rules of decency and truth” and that it contravenes the Consumer Protection Law sections 43 and 44. CAMA claims that ESCOM is creating unnecessary expectations both to current and perspective consumers about services which are below standard and inconsistent with the advertisement.

In the largest city in Malawi, which is also the commercial capital of the country, we experience black outs on average of twice a week. They are usually at around 6:00 in the evening and go for about two hours. Some days they last for half a day, but not too often. There was a joke going around a while back that suggested that ESCOM trade slogans with the local Siku Transport Service whose slogan is “Here Tonight, There Tomorrow.”

I was surprised when I was driving this morning and saw this headline on one of the local papers. Someone is actually taking them to task over the issue!